Batangas court junks rap vs sari-sari store owner Asinas, earlier tagged as NPA intel chief

Batangas court junks rap vs sari-sari store owner Asinas, earlier tagged as NPA intel chief

MANILA, Philippines — A Batangas court has ordered the release of sari-sari store owner Lamberto Asinas, earlier tagged as an intelligence chief of the New People’s Army, as it quashed the search warrant, obtained “based on deliberate falsehood by police,” that led to his arrest in 2020.

Batangas Regional Trial Court Branch 14 Presiding Judge Wilhelmina Go-Santiago granted the motion filed by Asinas’ counsels from the Public Interest Law Center asking it to quash the search warrant issued by a Laguna court, to suppress evidence and to declare seized items as illegal.

“The jail warden of the Batangas Provincial Jail, Cuta, Batangas City is hereby directed to immediately release Lamberto Asinas from detention unless his further detention is warranted by some other lawful cause/s,” the ruling read.

The Batangas court held: “There is no probable cause for the issuance of the subject search warrant due to the deliberate falsehood committed by applicant police officer and their alleged informant.”

Discrepancies in testimonies, falsehood in application

In resolving the motion to quash, the Batangas court said it found discrepancies in the testimony of Police Senior Master Sergeant Mediaviolo Alcantara, who applied for the search warrant. Witness Jojo Castillo also had no personal knowledge about the alleged possession of loose firearms of accused

Asinas’ lawyers also raised that a barangay clearance form Brgy. Bunducan stated that Castillo is not a resident of the area, which was also backed by testimonies of the sitio.

The court stressed Castillo’s allegation that he lives in Sitio Alas as near the house of the accused is crucial in the application, as it is through this that the applicant was able to establish probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant.

“Without this crucial fact, that Castillo lives near the house of Asinas, that the whole case of the application for the issuance of the search warrant would have no factual basis to stand on,” it added.

The court also said that while the police’s surveillance operation and the barangay performing their duty enjoy presumption of regularity, both can be controverted as did the barangay certificate and testimony from residents.

“Hence if a deliberated falsehood on matters that are essential or necessary to a showing of probable cause is committed, a trial judge’s finding of probable cause may be set aside. Therefore, this court is compelled to quash Search Warrant No. 20-3368 on the ground of deliberate falsehood committed,” it added.

Probing questions

The court noted that a judge must make a personal examination under oath of a complainant and witnesses, and make searching questions in applications for search warrant.

“It is axiomatic that the examination must be probing and exhaustive, not merely routinary, general peripheral, perfunctory or pro forma. The judge must not simply rehash the contents of the affidavit but must make his own inquiry on the intent and justification of the application,” it said.

Citing records of the search warrant, the judge noted that the deposition conducted by Laguna Judge Cynthia Marino-Ricabalanca “would reveal that the applicant himself apparently has no personal knowledge of the facts upon which application is based.”

This is, at least, the second search warrant issued by Sta. Rosa Laguna RTC Judge Cynthia Mariña-Ricablanca that was quashed by a different court. In July 2020, Batangas RTC Judge Carolina De Jesus granted the motion to quash filed by lawyers of Calaca farmer Doroteo Bautista.

“Considering the nullity of the subject search warrant, the search conducted under its authority against herein accused is likewise null and void… which rendered any evidence obtained by virtue thereof inadmissible in evidence,” the court said.

“Hence, there remains no evidence to support his conviction thereby warranting a dismissal of the instant case,” it added.

Asinas’ lawyers from the PILC, however, lamented that despite this vindication, their client already suffered vilification in the media. “Because the military had exceedingly gloated over his arrest, he fears future persecution and harm notwithstanding his clear legal victory.” they said.

“Red-tagged individuals have little or no recourse even after the charges are dismissed. The military and police are not compelled nor have they volunteered to retract their malicious statements and, in most cases, have refused to acknowledge the errors in their ways,” the PILC added.

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